Friday, February 27, 2009

I Just Want Something I Can Never Have

So, you may be asking yourself, what's going on here? He said he'd be blogging about What If . . . ? but for the last two weeks he's been blathering on about wonkish continuity crap, not to mention kicking the long-dessicated corpse of "One More Day" around the block. I don't see the connection and it doesn't seem to add up to anything more than tangential ramblings at this point . . .

Oh ye of little faith!

There is only one thing that I can say about superhero comic books with absolute certainty - and really, I'm not just talking about superheroes here, but all established serial genre fiction fits in here as well. These stories can never end. Sure, they may have endings, they may have cancellations or deaths, but the one foe that not even the combined might of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk can ever defeat is the fact that they must go forward, forever, or at least for as long as anyone is around to renew the copyrights and buy the books. (Regardless of what shape the comics industry may resemble in another twn or twenty or thirty years, I don't see these characters ever really going away, anymore than Mickey Mouse or Popeye, and barring some kind of massive apocalypse, I don't see their respective fictional milieus fading away either.)

The only real endings these kinds of characters get are usually dictated by real-world constraints outside the remit of the stories themselves. The original Valiant line, ROM, Neil Gaiman's Sandman - these stories and characters all got to enjoy their endings, but only through unusual circumstances. The Valiant characters' origins are so heavily wound up in the original Gold Key heroes that they could never be put back together again without massive disfiguring alterations. (That is, of course, barring a third party once again accruing the rights to all these characters, an extremely unlikely proposition at the present time.) Marvel quite simply doesn't have the rights to publish ROM anymore, but if the rights situation ever cleared up I believe Rom would be back in his silver space armor within six months. And Sandman - like Watchmen - is one of the very, very few marketable properties that have ever been "retired" by the Big Two out of anything resembling deference to their creators - although, while DC may honestly wish to honor Gaiman's wishes, the fact is that these books are so much a cornerstone of the company's self-image that they are probably just too afraid of sullying the brand with knock-offs. (As opposed to something like Batman or Spider-Man, Sandman and Watchmen owe much of their perceived value to an ill-defined, amorphous concept of "quality", the kind of intangible intellectual Q-rating type aura that could conceivably be sullied if, say, they hired Chuck Dixon to write The Further Adventures of Daniel, Lord of Dreams. It's an open question whether all the tangentially-related but still not technically "real" Sandman spin-offs released in the decade following the series' end actually diluted that aspect of the brand - I would argue that they did, but that's another argument for another day.)

But, perversely, because the vast majority of these characters can never, ever actually experience an ending, the fanbase and creators have become increasingly obsessed with eschatology. This is no mere speculation: practically every month sees the release of someone or other's attempt at writing "the definitive ______ story", inevitably a story of said character in an alternate future, struggling against mortality and fighting his final battle against insurmountable odds. Why are these types of stories so enduringly popular? They don't "matter", only in rare circumstances, and yet these types of speculative eschatologies are ubiquitous enough that one could almost become convinced that the stories were intrinsic to the very idea of contemporary superhero comics.

Here's the thing: they just might be.

The longer any milieu exists, the more elaborate and intricate the structure becomes. The fact that nothing ever really ends in superhero comics - leastwise, the only things which can ever be said to "end" are so tertiary as to be almost totally insignificant, like US 1 - means that the the longer the milieu continues, the more complicated the rationalizations for maintaining the status quo become. The status quo might be properly understood to represent whatever is most necessary, most intrinsic about each and every character, or what has come to be regarded so. What is and is not intrinsic is, of course, open to debate in every example - but between commercial, editorial and creative concerns, a conventional wisdom usually develops over time. More than anything else, the status quo is built on custom, and custom can change over time. But it's a long process, and as with any kind of milieu, corrections are inevitable and necessary.

The marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane represented a conclusive end to one of the most intrinsic elements of Spider-Man's status quo. Whatever your opinion on the matter - or if you have no opinion whatsoever - the end of the ongoing romantic soap-opera represented the end of one of the primary sources of conflict for the Spider-Mythos since the strip's very beginning. This is not a question of whether or not "One More Day" was or was not a mistake - simply taken on a mechanical level, the Spider-Marriage represented a significant departure from the characters' core principles. Peter Parker is the ultimate "Hard Luck Hero" - but if he's married, that puts the concept into a different light. Problems that may have seemed slightly less serious to an unmarried man become significantly more weighty to a married couple. The tone of the stories necessarily changes, because married life is itself an entirely different tone from single life.

(For comparisons sake, look at the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane. Every now and again I'll hear someone say that that marriage should be undone as well - but honestly, it hardly seems pressing. How many good Superman stories - intrinsically Superman stories - can you not tell with a married Superman? Unless you're proposing a return to some kind of Lois Lane / Lana Lang love triangle, or a completely unnecessary relationship with Wonder Woman, there's simply nothing that is lost by merely having Superman be married. It grounds the character, I think, and adds far more than it detracts. He's always been a little bit older than Spider-Man anyway - not so much a tentative twenty-something but a confident thirty-something. He shouldn't be tomcatting around - single Superman never did that, notwithstanding whatever extraneous Superdickery he used to get up to in the name of teaching Lois and Lana some humiliating lesson or another. I'd be surprised if that marriage is ever undone, and I have yet to see a convincing argument for it's undoing.)

In other words, the Spider-Marriage is just a big old What If . . . ? that got out of hand. The whole point of What If . . . ? - as well as old-school "Imaginary Stories" and some (but not all) "Elseworlds" - is that it acts as a safety valve for the regular milieu. What could never really happen in the milieu, at least not without irrevocably changing something important? Well, let's look at that, let's begin with that as our point of departure, and then proceed methodically from there to dissect exactly what would happen if, say, Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four back in Amazing #1, or Daredevil actually had shot the Kingpin during "Born Again". Once you depart from the expected status quo, the sky's the limit - and for the very best (or, leastways, most interesting) issues of What If . . . ?, that usually means putting the amps all the way up to 11 and watching everyone kill each other .

The above comic, What If . . . ? first series #42, is one of my all-time favorite Fantastic Four stories. It's a hell of a downer - basically, Susan Richards dies giving birth to Franklin, as a result of Annihilus delaying Reed's return from the Negative Zone with the MacGuffin that they needed to stabilize the birth. After the funeral Reed just falls apart, despite everything Ben, Johnny and even Namor can do to help. Ultimately, Reed decides to return to the Negative Zone and destroy Annihilus, killing himself in the process.

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What is the point of this story? Despite the fact that is dismantles the Fantastic Four pretty conclusively, it's also a pretty convincing argument for just why and how the Fantastic Four work. By taking apart the status quo in an alternate universe context, the story highlights exactly how the concept should work in the mainstream milieu. The group's linchpin is family - once you take that family apart, the group can't function. The preservation of the nuclear family dynamic is the operating principle behind the Fantastic Four.

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My favorite Superman stories are actually "Imaginary Stories" - "Superman Red / Superman Blue", the original "Death" - essentially What If . . . ? in all but name. From their point of departure with the mainstream milieu, these stories take the series' premise to its ultimate logical conclusion. Both stories, far from being superfluous "Imaginary", are pretty close to definitive. What is Superman about? What is at the heart of the character, from his roots to the present day? Optimism and hope. Both of those stories - and, hell, even Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" - take the concept as far as it can go. Superman could change the world if he wanted to - and even in death, just the idea of Superman is pure enough to withstand and overcome the corrupting forces of the "real world". If there is one thing Grant Morrison gets 100% right about Superman - and to his credit, he seems to understand the character better than just about anyone else - it's this idea, that Superman is nothing more and nothing less than a radiantly pure Platonic ideal of nobility and charity. It's so simple even a small child can understand it.

It's such an astoundingly simple idea, at its heart, that it's no surprise that sometimes the garden-variety run of Superman stories obscure the premise pretty badly. Just as there have been lots of Fantastic Four stories that stray far from the idea of family, and lots of Spider-Man stories that stray from the idea of heroic, almost pathological self-sacrifice (often to the detriment of his own well-being, an idea that just doesn't play the same when he's also responsible for someone else), there are lots (and lots and lots) of stories that treat Superman like just another schmuck in a costume. And, in fairness, you can't play these characters' most basic concepts as strongly as this in every story, or "core strengths" can easily become "one-trick ponies" - if every Superman story were about his meta-fictional awesomeness overcoming evil through hope and diligence, well, it'd get old pretty quick. But the beauty of alternate universe stories is that, when done right, they can illuminate some pretty essential facets of these characters' existence. The reason these What If . . . ? stories still fascinate is that they cut straight to the heart of any given character's appeal. If The Dark Knight Returns is still considered by many to be one of the defining Batman stories, its quite simply because - to a lot of people - it says something pretty damn essential about the character of Batman, something that probably couldn't have been said as easily in the context of the conventional milieu.

More to come - including a defense of the often unfairly maligned Kingdom Come. No joke.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Drivers License Officially Lists My Age As 'Old As Dirt'

I was thinking about this today and felt a pang of old age when I realized it was ten years in the past. Then I went home, checked the CD and realized it had actually been 12 years, not ten, and felt even older.

So awesome it doesn't even matter that they're ska. So awesome that you can even overlook the blatant LDS references in the lyrics ("Pioneers and patriarchs / Patriots and matriarchs / Staking out the promised land"). Back in the days when you had M2 playing music videos 24 hours a day - and weird ones, too. Of course, I am old enough to have liked M2 because it was a reminder of how cool MTV had been in its earlier years. (I know people have been complaining about MTV not playing music videos since about 1985, but damn, they don't even play the late night insomniacs block anymore!) You kids today - with your YouTubes and iTunes - don't realize just how great it was to live in a world where you couldn't just pick whatever you wanted to see and hear at the moment you felt the urge. There was still some romance in hearing a song you hadn't heard before on the radio and painstakingly tracking it down later. Catching the tail end of a gnarly music video and then flipping back to the station compulsively for two weeks in the hopes of catching the thing from the beginning. Seeing a fleeting mention of some weird band or obscure album in SPIN or Rollling Stone and then waiting months before you could actually find a copy of said obscurity in an out-of-town record store and then take the blind plunge, popping $16.99 on the counter for something you had never heard before and had only a fleeting fantasy of an idea of what it sounded like - half the time you'd end up with unlistenable garbage, the other half you'd stumble upon something that would change your life, maaaan.

During the recording of Remain in Light, the Talking Heads came across a magazine review of a then-obscure late 70s British punk group and were utterly fascinated by the description of the music. They decided to record a song that represented what they thought the band might sound like.
... David's contributions to this song were said to be influenced by things he had read about a British group called Joy Division. He had never actually heard their albums, but he had read about them. ...*
The result was "The Overload", which probably sounds closer to Magazine but still pretty far out for either Joy Division or the Talking Heads.

We don't live in a world where such a thing could happen today. Within 30 seconds of reading about any new artist, I can log onto YouTube and Wikipedia and know everything about them and their sound, watch the videos and bootleg concert footage, read the Pitchfork critical blowjob and the subsequent Pitchfork backlash, and then realize the band have had their entire career arc on my computer screen in about the time it took me to type this post.

Oh well.

In other news: Hey you kids, stay off my lawn.
The Stories Your Letters Demanded

In the comments to my last post, Theolonius_Nick makes an interesting assertion:
You talked a few days ago about picking at the sore rather than letting it heal, and that's exactly what's going on in OMD. I don't think by this point in time the issue is whether OMD is legitimate or not. Readers have already decided for the most part it's not. I think most readers just want to accept the new status quo and forget about how we got here (in your system, they want a passive correction). I know that's how I feel.

The problem is the Spider Braintrust seems to think with OMD they have some great mystery going on and readers are eagerly awaiting the next installment to dig out clues (an active correction). In fact, by dribbling out the little bits of explanation over months and months, Marvel keeps reopening the wound. In this case, I'd rather live with the cognitive dissonance than keep being reminded of the continuity problems, again and again and again.
Looking back over my own words, I think that Nick is probably more correct than I was in his assessment of the situation. It's important to recall my previous words to the effect that the relationship of every individual reader to all milieu corrections are subjective. The reasons for this are not hard to understand, and they offer a means to understand exactly why the Brand New Day status quo has left so many readers unsatisfied - an answer which, itself, addresses many of the logistical and methodological problems raised by ongoing serial fiction.

There is one of the aspects of producing ongoing serialized fiction that the practitioners must find most aggravating above all others: no matter which philosophy a writer or editor assumes in reference to the strict continuity or lax consistency, there are always going to be people on either side of the divide who are invariably more invested in the question than you. As much as you (or I!) may dislike the writing of Jeph Leob, his attitude towards consistency must be freeing, and in fairness his strongest moments have come in venues where his lax attitude towards strict continuity has been an asset. Contrariwise, Dan Slott's mastery of Marvel continuity appears to rival Mark Waid's knowledge of DC lore, and as a result his stories almost invariably draw strongly on a direct connection to prior stories. Either approach can work or not work, depending on context or creator. But problems arise when both Jeph Loeb and Dan Slott are set to work within the same milieu at the same time.

(This is not to say that it would ever be possible or desirable to impose a consistent policy across an entire active milieu - barring an entire line - such as pre-Unity Valiant - written by a single person, there are going to be inconsistencies. These inconsistencies can work to the milieu's strengths as much as not, which is why, for example, the mid-90s DC line was strengthened by the presences of James Robinson's Starman, Garth Ennis' Hitman and Jerry Ordway's Shazam! (three of my favorite titles I plucked essentially at random). Three more dissimilar titles you would be hard pressed to invent, and yet they all coexisted, and even crossed-over (within reason) with each other and other DC Universe titles. Rather than detracting from each other, the existence of each book within the greater milieu created a context in which each title could either participate in or ignore the line's greater mega-story (as in the case of Hitman's notorious anti-crossover crossovers with Final Night, DC 1,000,000 and Cataclysm). Each of these books could easily have existed outside of the confines of the DCU. The fact that each co-existed owes as much to commercial demands as creative decisions, but each creator used the context of the DCU as a springboard for their own ambitions, and in each case the books were made stronger by, rather than weaker from, their association with the overarching milieu.)

One of the key problems with Brand New Day probably stems from the fact that Marvel simply had no experience executing that kind of serious active local course-correction before. One More Day was a story specifically designed to negate previous stories - hardly a new thing, certainly not for Marvel. But the difference between something like Avengers Forever and One More Day is that whereas Avengers Forever functioned as a broom cleaning out cobwebs - essentially fixing 30+ years of Avengers continuity and setting it neatly in order for the benefit of later creators - the Spider-Man story didn't really "fix" anything. I mean that purely on a mechanical basis: there were no glaring inconsistencies or garbled continuity issues for which One More Day existed to untangle. On a functional level, the Spider-Man books were actually remarkably streamlined. The aftermath of the Clone Saga throughout the late 90s and early 00s (really, up to the beginning of JMS' run on Amazing) had represented one long, slow, car-crash of a correction, piling passive neglect atop active, ham-fisted retcon until the books had become little more than footnotes to themselves. Every attempt to create new storylines - Joey Z! Senator Ward! Is MJ dead or just missing? - floundered because the continuity was so garbled. It actively drew attention to itself at every turn, resisting all attempts at consistency, until a new editorial regime flayed the titles within an inch of their lives as a means of returning "back to basics". JMS' new direction on the flagship, for good or ill, got people talking about something other than the long senescence of the late 90s.

As unsatisfactory and downright painful as it may have been to see the Spider-books flailing through the better part of the decade, the damage was contained. Rather than rewriting the rules of the universe as a means of getting out of a fix, they insisted on writing their way out of the corner - even after it became obvious to all involved that such a massive course correction would have been better for all concerned. But still: that was how Marvel chose to deal with these issues, and on the whole it worked: there were lots of bad books under the water, yes, but by the time they got to where they wanted to go, a loose attention to consistency enabled most of the bad to be forgotten in favor of the good.

The problem with an active universal course correction is that, rather than merely sidestepping the problem, the story mechanism has to actively draw attention to the problem in the first place. The original Crisis was a story about how unwieldy and counter-productive the multiple-earths concept was - wrapped in the context of perhaps the best multiple-earths story the company ever told. It was a neat trick, putting a tired concept to bed with one last hurrah, while explicitly marking the dividing line between "then" (pre-Crisis) and "now" (post-Crisis). The only problem was that by drawing such intense attention to the problem, the company courted disaster when complications inevitably arose (not so far) down the line. Active universal course corrections demand strict obeisance or they crumble - the moment people started going back to pick the scabs of Crisis (ie, the moment anyone used Hawkman), Crisis was an immediate failure. If you write a story for the express purpose of writing another story or stories out of the milieu, you must follow the consequences of the emendation to its logical conclusion and thereafter obey that conclusion. In other words: once done, it cannot be undone, and should be regarded as an inviolable fixture.

Marvel undoubtedly didn't think they were producing the kind of active universal correction One More Day turned out to be. Or rather, some of Marvel - JMS, from comments made in his exit interviews, clearly understood that a story like that had to immediately establish its conclusions, put them in the past and follow them without hesitation, otherwise it would be an immediate mess. It is no coincidence that JMS is a science-fiction writer - he was able to see the consequences and eventual setbacks of a sloppy correction, because that's what speculative fiction extrapolation is all about. It may have been unpalatable for Joe Quesada to create, instead of the vague and unsatisfying One More Day, a more methodical and specific "Crisis on Earth-Spider", but the alternative is the comic book equivalent of an unfunded mandate: the dangling, inconclusive retcon.

A massive story like Crisis can inspire many types of stories in its immediate aftermath, with individual titles and families of titles responding either actively or passively to the milieu-wide changes. As long as all the titles can be said to possess a kind of general consistency with each other, they can be as disparate in execution as they please. But by ostensibly isolating the effects of One More Day to a local scale, the long-term consequences of the storyline became more pronounced on the universal scale. You simply can't have Spider-Man showing up in, say, Iron-Man or The Avengers without some acknowledgment of the new status quo. To their credit, all the non-Spider-titles who have dealt with Spider-Man in recent months have assumed the attitude of passive correction, attempting to silently readjust the character's altered state to meet the demands of each individual story. But these kind of passive corrections only create bigger problems, because the underlying thesis behind One More Day has yet to be completely elaborated. Imagine, for instance, if Crisis had ended, not with one earth conclusively in place of all previous alternate earths, but a bare intimation of some kind of drastic continuity change without providing the exact mechanism by which this had been achieved. (Oh wait, they did that, it was called Final Crisis.)

If you have to do a universal correction, you have to make sure everyone has their stories straight, and you have to go forward without looking back. To return to the beginning of the essay, it is possible - and desirable - to create a milieu in which both Jeph Loeb and Dan Slott can play well. But it is necessarily, within the context of every individual story, for each writer to be consistent within their own framework - either more or less consistent, just pick an approach and go with it. The problem with One More Day and Brand New Day is that it tried to be all things to all people: a complete continuity transplant for the strict constructionists, and a much more vague, hand-wavey sleight-of-hand for those with a more passive attention to consistency. Either approach would probably have worked, but doing both at the same time means neither are successful.

I seem to have put a lot of balls in the air with this one - so, as always, to be continued.

Friday, February 20, 2009

And Nothing Would Ever Be The Same Again!

For the sake of clarification:

The context of a fictional serial adventure shared universe can most accurately be called a milieu. The word continuity, while sometimes used to mean the same thing, is an inapt phrase given the inordinate baggage the term has accrued in recent years. It is more accurate, in this context, to refer to continuity not as an object but a process.

As previously discussed, continuity stands in contrast to consistency. Rather than standing in polar opposition, however, the two processes exist in relation to each other on a subjective sliding scale. Every reader's knowledge and tolerance for continuity varies. While one reader might easily believe a book such as the recent Hulk relaunch to be continuity-light, another reader might see the series as continuity-heavy. From one perspective, for readers familiar with the character, the series can be said to depend on little explicit knowledge of previous stories for immediate comprehension. For this first type of reader, the process by which Hulk fits into the Marvel Universe's milieu could best be described as consistent. Another reader seeing the book in the context of the preceding line-wide Hulk-centric crossover and dealing specifically with the changes to that character's status quo stemming from the conclusion of said crossover might understand these connections to previous stories as intrinsic to comprehension of the new series. There is no objective standard with which to judge.

Certainly, it would be easy to judge the outliers on either side of the scale: most would probably agree that Roy Thomas' later, post-Crisis stories in All_Star Squadron are some of the mostly densely continuity-heavy comic books ever printed. Conversely, few would argue that a book such as Ultimate Spider-Man - specifically designed for the bulk of its run to be friendly to readers generally unfamiliar with the pre-existent Spider-Man milieu - is designed to operate best on a level of general consistency. (Tellingly, the Ultimate line began to flounder the further it strayed from the goal of general, user-friendly consistency and towards a more regimented continuity.) Most books fall somewhere in the middle between these two polar opposites.

Whether or not a story is continuity-light or continuity-heavy - whether it relies less on an attention to rigid continuity or more on a passing consistency with previous stories in its milieu - has no bearing on its quality. The applications of continuity and consistency are neutral methodologies.

It is an observed truth, however, that even the most continuity-light milieus will tend inexorably towards complexity in direct proportion to the duration of publication. Furthermore, continuity-heavy systems within established milieus cannot continue indefinitely without self-correction.

There are two kinds of self-correction processes within an established milieu: proactive continuity and passive continuity. Additionally, within the category of proactive continuity there are two distinct but not incompatible techniques. The first corrections are most accurately grouped under the rubric local, and include such phenomena as retcons (retroactive continuity) and continuity implants. (Wikipedia helpfully identifies three distinct types of retcon: addition, alteration and subtraction. I see no reason to dispute these sub-categorizations.) The second type of correction is the large-scale, or universal correction. Universal corrections usually occur in conjunction with - or, perhaps more accurately, serve as the launchpad for - multiple local and passive corrections. There are no divisions of passive corrections.

A good rule of thumb is that if a milieu correction draws attention to itself in any way, it is proactive, whereas if it merely occurs off-panel without explanation it is passive. The original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis are all proactive corrections of the universal type. The correction of the Superman titles that followed Crisis, stemming from John Byrne's Man of Steel, were also proactive (in that these changes were the subject of a specific storyline) and local (in that the corrections primarily effected the Superman family of titles, with other series effected tangentially). Conversely, the changes wrought on the Batman family of titles in the wake of Crisis were mostly passive. There was no character reboot (the continuity implants of Year One, Two and Three came a little later, and had nowhere near the far-reaching effects of Man of Steel), and the degree to which the character's pre-Crisis milieu remained intact into the post-Crisis order did not seem to be dictated by anything other than the immediate needs of individual writers and editors.

Spider-Man's One More Day storyline was a proactive local milieu correction whose end result - the still-ongoing "One More Day" status-quo - has mostly unfolded passively, to the frustration of many readers desirous of a more concretized correction process. This has had two different effects: on the one hand, it enabled the creators to move quickly in establishing the parameters of a new status-quo without being overly bogged down in the immediate explanation of every detail stemming from the original correction. On the other hand, the passive attitude towards the change has created an unfortunate tentativeness to the line, based on the understandable expectation on the part of the readership that the lingering questions behind the correction will be addressed explicitly and not merely, as has happened so far, in media res. To a segment of the readership, it is possible that the "Brand New Day" status quo will not be seen as legitimate until these lingering questions are addressed. Similar attempts to graft local corrections onto Spider-Man's milieu, such as Byrne's Chapter One have proven less successful, and have been passively phased out. Kurt Busiek's Untold Tales was another active correction, albeit not one designed for the purpose of simplification, merely elaboration. As such, its effects have been predominantly passive.

More to follow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I like that issue of WHAT IF? where something
changes and at the end EVERYONE DIES.*

One of the interesting things about this blog, for me, is the way the blog-post format allows for almost endless digression. When I began this series a few days back, my primary goal was to talk about how much I loved Marvel's What If . . . ? Almost before I had even begun to write, the posts went in different directions entirely. What started out as a post became a series of posts. I have found throughout the years that the most satisfying writing on this blog comes when these things are allowed to evolve naturally from whichever origin point I choose.

The best example of this: recently, I got a wild lark to write about the triangle numbers on the covers of 90s Superman comics, an obscure topic inspired by Mike Sterling's musings on the same. Well, before I knew it that post had metastisized into a long series of posts about 90s superhero comics in general. That series - which, I will reiterate, started as nothing more than a wild hair - was so well received that I received an offer to produce a magazine article on the subject, and in January I finished and submitted a 10,000 word article on 90s superhero comics for an Australian literary magazine. (I won't say anymore now so as not to steal the editors' thunder when they send out press releases, but as soon as the issue goes on presale I'll post order details in this space.) If you were wondering where that series went, well, it got moved to a bigger venue.

So: what began with a simple desire to write about What If . . . ? has, again, metastisized in conception into something bigger, more ambiguous, and hopefully more interesting. Any blog that has been around this long hopefully has some kind of personality, and if you're a faithful or even occasional reader it is to be hoped that you are tolerant of this particular blog's obvious faults and idiosyncracies. I'm not going to be able to post every day like Mike Sterling - every time I even think of trying that I curl into a fetal position. I'm not going to be able to maintain anything resemble a coherent subject matter - Neilalien stays pretty true to his mission of illuminating the world of Doctor Strange with his digital Eye of Agamotto, and it's clear that even when he goes far afield he never loses sight of that focus. I can't even maintain enough discipline to write about comics all the time, and I'm sure you're all thrilled to death whenever I decide to post 2,000+ words on My Chemical Romance. (Whom you should all be listening to now, incidentally.)

My one real ambition for this blog - to write well-reasoned reviews of good comics has pretty much been left in the dust, because as much as I wish I could muster up the enthusiasm of a Jog or a Tucker Stone, dammit, I just can't seem to make myself sit down to do the kind of formal reviews I would really like to do. It doesn't help that I spend most of all my days since I've returned to school doing real, demanding cogitation on the subject of prose literature. So, yeah, as much as I have been wanting to devote a couple of weeks of hardcore scholarship to discussing Brian Chippendale's Maggots, that part of my brain is just too busy with Père Goriot, The Moonstone, Said's Orientalism and Sappho's collected poetry, to name four books which I have to finish by the end of this week. Whenever I do find the time to review anything, there's no promise that it'll even be rational or coherent. (I am particularly proud of my recent review of Final Crisis #7. The reasons it's such an awesome review are the exact same reasons it pissed everyone off, and if you don't understand the logic behind that sentence you can't understand the logic behind this blog. My motto should be: Proudly Pissing In Your Wheaties Since 2004.)

All of which is - wow, I just realized, what had intended to be an opening paragraph describing the logic behind my intention to do a series of posts leading up to a reasoned discussion of What If . . . ? has, again, metastisized into something entirely different, an apology / defense for the current state of The Hurting. Let us hope that, unlike Socrates, my apology / defense does not end with me drinking hemlock and dying surrounded by a roomful of my young male sycophants (from the Greek συκοφάντης, or sykophántēs). Although, if anyone wishes to volunteer to write about how great I am after I'm dead, the queue begins here.

More on the nature of serialized continuity tomorrow, building towards a discussion of the differences between What If . . . ? and "Elseworlds", and why the former may just be the most important series Marvel ever published. (Not really.)

Not A Hoax, Not A Dream, Not An Imaginary Story!

Last time we discussed the history of Marvel and DC's respective Universes, and the broad outlines of just how these storytelling mechanisms came to operate. This isn't a new story - for anyone whose familiarity with superhero books goes back longer than a few years, this is familiar territory, practically Stations of the Cross for nerds.

But it should be repeated, for the benefit of those who may have come in late, that the differences between Marvel and DC have always been momentous. Or rather, they have always seemed momentous. If you grew up reading comics anytime between 1961 and now, you were probably either a Marvel fan or a DC fan. Now, of course, it goes without saying that most people who read superhero books are both, because retaining that kind of kneejerk corporate allegiance into adulthood seems problematic, at best. But regardless of what you read now, when you were a kid you probably loved one more than another. It depended on what struck the deepest chord with you at the youngest age. For me, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fan from the beginning. When I got into superhero books, there were a few years where I didn't touch anything that wasn't Marvel. Now, it wasn't long before I "broadened my horizons", if you consider buying Superman alongside Spider-Man to be an exercise in expanded consciousness. But even if I liked a lot of DC books, I was still on some deep, cellular level a Marvel fan - I was imprinted on Stan Lee like a little baby bird on his mother.

It's hard to keep bias from butting in. A Marvel fan, looking in on the DC line, might see books like All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. and the original Crisis as comically dense, convoluted and just plain odd. (Just now I glanced at the Wikipedia page for Earth 2 and saw that Earth 2's Quebec was an independent country. What the fuck?) Conversely, hardcore DC fans loved their multiverse, and loved all the stories that explored and defined all the little nooks and crannies and mysteries thereof. As many have noted, despite Marvel's seeming insistence on heightened continuity between their titles - dating back from the very early days of the post-1961 MU - the supposed fetish for continuity was more accurately a fetish for consistency. The two concepts are similar and related but not synonymous. The multiverse as it evolved at DC was an instrument of continuity, designed to circumvent contradiction within a rather cumbersome metafictional mechanism. The multiverse as it was utilized didn't really allow for a more ginger sense of consistency, like that at Marvel - it was all or nothing. if you had different worlds devoted to different versions of the same characters separated only by a few decades, well, by gum, you kind of had to follow that logic to its natural conclusions.

Continuity, as it has come to be understood in the context of these ongoing serial shared-universe adventures, is a dogged and inflexible devotion to absolute fidelity between all extant elements in a given context. In modern fandom, it has taken on a pejorative association - as in, the only people who care about "continuity" can't see the forest for the trees, etc etc. Consistency is less about exacting detail and more about broad strokes. This does not mean that a consistent system cannot also rely on tight continuity when it serves the purpose of the story. But the operative phrase is "when it serves the purpose of the story": if it doesn't serve the purpose of the story, or of future stories, it can easily be abandoned.

A few examples come to mind without effort. In the late 90s, after the character had been soiled almost beyond recognition by a progression of increasingly pitiful stories over the previous half-decade, the fledgling Marvel Knights imprint attempted to relaunch the Punisher as a mystical warrior, fighting demons and angels with magical guns. This relaunch failed so badly that the next Punisher relaunch, courtesy of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, didn't even bother to explain how the previous story had been swept under the rug. The events of the previous series were dismissed with a single cryptic remark in a narrative caption. No one really cared because the magic-themed storyline had been so unpopular. The Ennis / Dillon run single-handedly rehabilitated the character and restored him to his place of prominence in the company's pantheon.

Similarly, Iron Man was so badly misused in the mid-90s that drastic measures were necessary to restore the character to his previous status quo. In the space of a year he had been turned into a murderer and a betrayer - revealed as Kang's double agent in the Avengers since the very inception of the team - and subsequently replaced by an alternate-universe teen version. Thankfully, Onslaught and Heroes Reborn enabled this chapter in the character's history to be unceremoniously closed. When Iron Man returned a year later as part of Heroes Return, he was the old Tony Stark everyone knew and loved. Kurt Busiek didn't waste a lot of time explaining the hows and whys of the retcon, it just was. Finally, in an annual backup somewhere down the line, it was explained the Tony Stark had been restored to his previous state of grace because that was the way young Franklin Richards had remembered him when he restored the Avengers and Fantastic Four in the pages of Heroes Reborn. It didn't make a lick of sense and was, in fact, the comic book equivalent of waving your hands real fast and hoping no one notices. But people wanted so badly to forget all those horrible stories of the last few years that they willingly accepted the premise, and the fact that Tony was working as a spy for the Avengers' greatest enemy for over thirty years has never been mentioned again.

In contrast to these examples, I offer Donna Troy. Those who know how and why Wonder Girl came to be will know exactly how this DC example contrasts with the previous Marvel anecdotes. If you cut yourself, you need to get stitches and cover up the gash with a bandage. The only way to let it heal is to leave it alone, which usually means being very careful so as not to open the stitches. If the cut is big enough you are still left with a scar, but nowhere near as massive a scar as you can get from picking at the stitches, getting the gash infected, and pulling at the scabs. If the magical Punisher represents the bad cut that nonetheless healed well enough that you can barely see the small scar that remains, then Donna Troy is the huge gash that eventually needed surgery to remove gangrenous lesions, which resulted in almost losing the leg due to osteomyelitis and having to endure months of painful physical therapy as a result.

More later.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What If . . . ?

The Marvel Universe began in 1961 with the publication of Fantastic Four #1. Everything explodes outwards from that moment. Sooner (as with the case of the Sub-Mariner and Captain America) or later (as with Patsy Walker, the Two-Gun Kid and the late 50s Atlas monsters), a great deal of Marvel's pre-1961 output was incorporated into the fabric of the post-1961 universe. But it was a selective and deliberately careful process. Few besides Roy Thomas really cared about making all the crap from before 1961 make sense - some of it was useful, other stuff not so much. For all intents and purposes, the MU begins in 1961. Everything published before that date - besides the general outlines of the World War II heroes' careers - remains at least a little bit apocryphal, subject to the whims of individual writers.

DC, on the other hand, has always had a bit of a Universe problem. Or rather, they've given themselves a Universe problem, retroactively. They didn't start out with anything resembling a Universe. You had Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman and a host of others, and sometimes they met to have adventures together. But no one at the company ever really cared whether or not the world these adventures took place in was internally consistent. And this is the way things were until the early 60s. Suddenly things changed. Characters began to adopt a self-referential attitude towards their own history. The 1940s Flash met the 1960s Flash, but in order for the two characters to exist side by side, the writers had to jump through a few hoops.

Many of the writers and editors behind DC's superhero revival in the late 50s and early 60s were serious sci-fi fans, so they didn't see these kinds of obstacles in negativeterms, but as positive challenges. In the context of the fantasy-based super-hero milieu, these writers took the speculative fiction of their books seriously. So they began to introduce parallel worlds and alternative histories, developments that grew out of a desire to ensure an interesting and consistent framework for future stories. If you were to hop on your Time Treadmill and return to 1961, in order to tell the DC Bullpen that the whole Earth-1 / Earth-2 thing would eventually become far more trouble than it was worth, they wouldn't have believed you. How could something as cool and potentially interesting as an alternate Earth ever not be fun?

Meanwhile, back at Marvel, Stan Lee and Co. were building their own kind of internal consistency between their early 60s superhero books. But there was nothing quite so methodical at work with Lee's approach - basically, he was making it up as he went along. Wouldn't it be fun if the Fantastic Four could fight that new guy, the Hulk? And what if we brought Captain America back from the 1940s? Sure, cool! Matters proceeded more or less organically from there.

The idea of multiple Earths grew more and more intrinsic to the DC superhero books, with regular crossovers between Earth-1 and Earth-2. New Earths were colonized, strangely enough corresponding to the output of many of the companies DC had absorbed over the years - Fawcett, Quality, and (much later) Charlton. The really cool idea that had enabled the two Flashes to meet had metastasized into something that Julie Schwartz and Gardner Fox simply could not have anticipated. The notion of the multiverse became a kind of bête noire for DC, a situation not helped by the fact that so many writers devoted so much time to exploring the ins-and-outs of the theoretical superstructure. We're not just singling out Thomas for abuse here - more or less everyone who ever wrote a JLA / JSA crossover contributed to the problem.

I say "problem" in full cognizance of the fact that this "problem" was, for many DC readers, hardly a problem, but a singular strength of the company's output. DC readers got a kick out of being able to read stories where two different versions of Superman got together to fight two different versions of Lex Luthor. It would be a mistake to overstate the negative influence the multiple Earth superstructure had over readers - it's become something of an urban myth among comics readers that DC prior to 1985 was an impenetrable mess that pushed away more readers than it attracted. (Ironically, it seems to me that much of the basis for this myth - repeated so often it has become received wisdom - came from DC's own widely circulated rationale for the original Crisis.) It's probably impossible to say to what degree these kinds of stories effected the company's perception, on anything more than a purely anecdotal level. But the idea that stories dealing specifically with multiversal mechanics had grown staid and stale in the 1980s was widespread enough to spur the company itself to make a decisive break with perception.

Perhaps the most significant bulwark Marvel had against these types of legibility problems - either real or perceived - came in unexpected form. An anthology title devoted to 100% out-of-continuity stories, What If . . . ? was a strange title by any stretch of the imagination, a formalized version of the exact same kind of "Imaginary Stories" that had become unwelcome cliché at DC during the 50s and 60s. The crucial aspect of the series wasn't so much its oddity, but its (probably unintended) consequences. Creating a bimonthly showcase for things that didn't happen invariably required an encyclopedic reiteration of what actually did happen.

More tomorrow. (Famous last words for this blog, I know!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Spiders tend to wiggle when they walk
the web formula rots
and the villains hate the cops
with their agents and their guns

if the sinisters are decked
you'll just have to wait

and we're counting up the money that we steal
tired Vulture so depraved
from the rooftop see us
wave to the camera
it took a crime scene picture
to put the spider on my tail

but high-ho silver dome
high-ho silver dome

take another whiff of my smoke screen
listen to me! I am Mysterio! Mysterio!
oh my baby baby baby baby babe
gave me spider-man's head on a platter

what about the fists of Spider-Man
how did they get so tough?
i wonder if he works out like an ordinary guy?
(Venom: i know him and he does!)

and you're my fact-checkin' fiend
(Venom: Aww...)

well focus on the Quasar in the mist
Wendell Vaughn never missed
and i'm a blank dome head
the webs you have and if they stick
they will tangle me in them
in the police station
that was manned and serviced by
Tired spiders on the fly
everybody knows Spidey
he has hit us all for free
lots of bruises to massage
lots of bruises

but high-ho silver dome
high-ho silver dome
takes another punch to make me
oh, get off the air
I am Mysterio! Mysterio!
oh my baby baby baby baby baby babe
gave me spider-man's head on a platter

Monday, February 09, 2009

Munchausen Weekend

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I'm somewhat invested in this movie simply by virtue of the fact that it is loosely (VERY DAMN LOOSELY) based on a great short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm not just a fan of Fitzgerald, I'm actually presenting a paper at the 10th International F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference in Baltimore this September. So let there be no mistake: I knew going in I would hate this movie. That I would most likely loathe this movie - and yet, I paid for my ticket all the same. Why? Well, at the risk of poking the bear, sometimes you get more fun out of doing something - going to see a movie or watching a TV show or reading an event comic book - that you know full well you are going to hate, just so you can kvetch about it afterwards.

I knew I'd probably have a very visceral reaction to Sky Blue Sky but I bought it anyway, because I'm a Wilco fan and part of being a fan is being able to get something out of both the good and the bad. I went to see Wilco last year when they were in town and sure enough, they played a bunch of songs off of Sky Blue Sky, and they didn't once apologize to everyone who bought the album and thought it was a stupid piece of shit. That's OK, I didn't really expect them too. I enjoyed the show even if it pissed me off tremendously, and in fact, that experience probably made the show more memorable than half a dozen shows I've been to where there was nothing particularly spectacular going on either way. I also have copies - in one form or another - of all 300 issues of Cerebus, even if pretty much every issue between #187 and #300 made me angry to some degree. Despite that, I've still spent more time thinking about Cerebus - good and bad - than just about any other comic I can think of. Admittedly, I think my relationship with Cerebus is vastly more complicated than my relationship with Wilco - my investment in Wilco comes out to, like, maybe $100 over the past decade, counting the version of The Wilco Book with all the band's signatures on it, whereas I've spent at least $4-500 on Cerebus over the years, counting phonebooks, floppies and miscellany. Plus, the worse Jeff Tweedy ever did was get high on oxycontin, it's not like he published manifestos on the inherent cultural inferiority of women (that I know of!).

But Benjamin Button is easier to hate. It is, quite simply, a horrible movie. "Sure", you may be saying, "I knew that from the beginning, that's why I didn't pay good money to see it, unlike you." But it's so monumentally bad that it actually crosses back over into good, by virtue of it's sheer cynicism. "Cynical," you say, "surely you don't mean the same movie I saw, with it's heart-warming family-friendly generational epic warmed over Forrest Gump sentimentality?"

Hear me out. The thing is, I actually like Forrest Gump. It wasn't the Best Picture that year, but you know, it was a pretty fine little movie, corny as hell but essentially innocuous. (Although, if you've read Winston Groom's book, you know the movie doesn't hold a candle to the extremely funny original - less whimsy, more pot smoking and sex.) But although Gump has become shorthand for a certain type of reprehensibly corny bullshit Hollywood picture, I think the original holds up well. It just feels a little more honest than the imitators - even though it's mercilessly sappy, for the most part it plays fair with the audience. You know from the very first frame it's a fairy tale, and if you can accept that it's a fine picture. Not a lot to say about much of anything, but fun. It's a kind film, and there's nothing really wrong with that.

Benjamin Button feels like they reverse engineered Gump and put it together for optimum efficiency in the most ruthless manner possible. Every scene, every character, every damn line is weighted for its maximum heart-string pulling quotient (or, MHSPQ). Sure enough, it was written by the same guy who wrote the screenplay for Gump. But who directed it? David Fincher. Yeah, the guy who made Se7en and Fight Club and The Game - all those wonderfully paranoid headgame thrillers that seemed so very zeitgeisty back in the 90s, and still hold up remarkably well. His more recent films have been a bit less overtly weird - but still, we're talking movies about serial killers and home invasion, still not heartwarming puppies. So what happened? I imagine he woke up one day and decided he wanted to win an Oscar and make a lot more money. He wasn't going to win any trophies producing horror films about serial killers, no matter how awesome they may have been (Silence of the Lambs notwithstanding).

And it shows: for all it's ostensibly fuzzy content, this is really a brutally efficient film. To put it bluntly, the movie is nothing but money shot after money shot of family friendly goop, squirting aphorisms and feel-good tripe and pseudo-mystical destiny and predestination eternal love crap across the audience's faces every few minutes like clockwork. This movie is a huge throbbing organ of sentimental life-affirming romantic tumescence aimed at the open orifices of every available geriatric Academy voter. It's awesome in its absolute concession to vulgarity - the movie might as well have been titled For Your Consideration. I doff my hat to you, Benjamin Button - I did not believe a movie could be as shamelessly pandering as you. You have proven me wrong, and in doing so, reaffirmed my faith in humanity. And also, my hats off to Fincher, who has to be laughing his way to the bank. If someone offered me a pile of cash to massage a piece of steaming tripe for public consumption and possibly win an Oscar in the process, I'd jump at the chance too, so I can't criticize him on that score.

So, F. Scott Fitzgerald is still 0 for - hell, I don't even know - as far as film adaptations of his stories go. This is definitely worse than Robert Redford's forgettable Great Gatsby, and probably better Christopher Lloyd's Pat Hobby adaptation. But the thing is, Button can only vaguely be described as an adaptation of Fitzgerald's story in the loosest manner. Sure, you've got a basic idea in common, but the execution is entirely different. Fitzgerald's story is mainly funny, with bits of whimsy and a tiny bit of melancholy thrown in between the jokes. In the story, Button isn't born as a weird fragile elderly baby, he comes out of the womb chomping a cigar and asking if he could get some clothes. He tries to go to college and gets turned away by the admissions office, he plays football for a couple years until he becomes young and scrawny. Etc, etc. It's no longer than fifteen pages, basically a fable. There's no parental melodrama, no mystical backwards clocks, no being raised in an old folks home - hell, there are more black people in this film than the whole of Fitzgerald's entire corpus. And boy, it's nice to know there was no such thing as racism in 1920s New Orleans.

So yeah, a great film, highly recommended.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Stuff I Read

Final Crisis #7

It's not merely disingenuous, it's downright repellent to insult your audience for not getting the book you wrote. Sure, I can understand, it might feel nice to vent if you've been writing comics for a couple decades that a very vocal majority of your "fans" very vocally do not / pretend not to understand. You might start to feel like everyone is a whiny crybaby diaper butt who just needs to grow up and learn how to read. But the moment you break down into ad hominem attacks on the people who, either directly or indirectly, pay your bills and put gas in your Hummer, you become a dick-hole. Sorry, Charlie: not even Lou Reed can pull of being a dick-hole without coming across as, well, a dick-hole. Just because you wrote "Sweet Jane" doesn't mean you get to be an asshole without everyone else calling you on it, and you certainly don't get to be an asshole just because you wrote All-Star Superman. Of course this isn't the way the world works, but you know, just once, I'd like to see one of these guys come out and say something as simple as, you know,
"I'm very sorry if you didn't like my book. I worked hard on it but if it's not your cup of tea please accept my apologies. I hope you like my next project better."
End of quote.

OK, let's put aside the canard of audience expectations. Sure, there are a lot of people who just didn't like it, who didn't think it was all that much of a stretch to think that a book whose primary selling point is its ostensible connection to the pre-existing Crisis brand would, you know, resemble anyone's expectations for a Crisis-type book. There are many out there who will scream "foul", pointing out, perhaps justifiably, that audience expectations have no place in the realm of Pure Art and Platonic Forms, and that Morrison's super-epic should be judged solely on its own merits, separate from any other considerations than what is specifically on the page. OK, let's through Levi-Strauss under the train, let's get out our Scottish decoder rings. Forget all the churls who insist that not putting all the pieces of the story actually, you know, in the story is somehow a betrayal of trust with the audience. If they wanted the Final Crisis experience, they should have bought all the Final Crisis books, despite the general trend in recent years for both DC and Marvel to put out increasingly tangential tie-in books that can either be read or not read according to the reader's whims. (Sure, you may say, it works better that way to create stories that you can actually put between two covers in a hardcover spine, in such a way that should some intrepid explorer ever find a copy of Civil War in their local library they might, you know, actually have a very distant chance at deciphering the strange pictogramic communication on the interior pages.) How many of these complaints would have been alleviated if they'd just put all the relevant Final Crisis shit in the actual Final Crisis book, instead of praying that readers would be smart enough to sift through a couple dozen books and be able to figure out which was which? While Rogues' Revenge and Revelations and Rage of the Red Lanterns are - regardless of their various individual, ahem, "virtues" - absolutely superfluous to the ongoing Final Crisis saga, Resist, Superman Beyond in EXTREME 3D and, oh, these two issues of Batman which were also technically an epilogue to another storyline that was itself not originally solicited as a tie-in, are totally necessary to understand all the main plot points of the series' climax. That's so easy to figure out, someone who's been reading comics for over two and a half decades could do it!

So of course, here's the complaints, to which I'll be a good sport and cede: don't couch aesthetic criticism in business terms, because, man, your totally squaresville Daddy-O graphs and pie charts are totally alien to picking up on the vibes that MorriSonofGod is putting down. OK, fair enough, I'll cede the point. But man, here's another downbeat to squelch your vibe: Ang Lee's Hulk. Sure, some people like it, a lot of people will crawl out of the woodwork to defend it. After all, for it's flaws, it's still the work of a conscientious auteur trying to stretch the boundaries of what can be done within a limiting milieu. But you know what? It fucking sucks as a Hulk movie. It killed the Hulk's chance at being an A-level film franchise, which is why Marvel (now that they're in the driver's seat of their movie future) will never again make the mistake of letting an artiste drive one of their A-level franchises off the cliff in the name of Art. In that respect, I'd say that regardless of your feelings on the movie, Hulk failed both commercially and creatively because it closed a shitload of doors for future opportunities. You may love the movie, but especially if you love the movie you should be sorry the movie had to basically screw everything up for all the other potential smart nouvelle vague superhero action films that could one day have been born. Forget the fact that that, of course, wouldn't have happened, that even if the first film had been a huge blockbuster, Hulk 2 would probably have been directed by the guy who farted out Timecop 3: Squatters in Bohemia, because Ang Lee had better things to do, i.e. follow up a commercial failure with one of the best mainstream American movies of the decade, Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

Still: the only thing that results from noble failures is retrenchment and a recommitment to "core values", which in this instance is grasping sub-sub-mediocrity. You can argue, and maybe even successfully, that Final Crisis succeeded "on its own terms" (whatever that means), and even say that Secret Invasion hardly created a sensation of fabulous buzz for Marvel, either. But even if Secret Invasion didn't end by setting the world on fire, it at least kept the home fires burning and didn't result in any marked decrease in fanboy goodwill. Final Crisis has already proven itself to be the most controversial superhero comic of the year - and it's only February. And not controversy in a good way, controversy in terms of the fact that anywhere from 60-75% of the audience feels cheated and the other 25-40% of the audience is responding by calling the other segment idiots. Not the buzz the company wanted to lead into Blackest Night, eh? (And good job spoiling those plot points in the toy catalog, guys!)

Even Morrison admits that in terms of influence, Final Crisis will almost certainly be a crushing failure. It must suck to go to editorial retreats and sit on convention panels with people you hold such contempt for, who you can't even trust to be able to write a God-damned Sonny Sumo comic book without wanting to fill it up with pictures of the Rainbow Raider getting raped by Mopee. It must make holiday parties pretty awkward, to hate your peers for being bumbling mediocrities, and then go say as much in public interviews. Sure, they are bumbling mediocrities, but I don't want to see how sausage is made. At least let me pretend all the elves are happy in Santa's Workshop.

So, yeah: Final Crisis will not result in more comics like Final Crisis, it will result in more comics like Secret Invasion. Because ambition is expensive, and there is something to be said in an extremely conservative market for a piece of dog crap that nevertheless comes slathered with enough high fructose corn syrup that is sort of is edible. If you're hungry now you'll eat the dog shit because by the time the truck with the White Castle slammers gets here you'll be dead. And it's not even that Final Crisis was that late as these things go, it's that Marvel's big series was extraordinarily punctual (only missing a couple weeks with the very last issue) and extraordinarily consistent. Sure, the consistency was baby diarrhea, but it was nonetheless consistent. (And man, why is it that we are never far from fecal jokes? Are they unoriginal, do they betray a lack of imagination on my part? And why is it that, like "bureaucracy", I can never remember how "diarrhea" is spelled, no matter how many hundreds of times I type it.)

So, finally, it's not that Morrison overestimated my intelligence - me, specifically, as a reader. It's that he overestimated my ability to care about putting together all the pieces when about half the comic was missing. And I'm not talking about the parts that were in crossovers, I mean the pages that must have fallen out of my issue that told me what the fuck was actually going on. I'm not stupid, but you know, I just don't feel like I want to exercise the same set of muscles on Final Crisis that I do for Absalom, Absalom. If you want to do that, fine, but I just don't want to do that. Some people live to put up long annotations of these comics, and God bless them, I wouldn't have understood Superman Beyond if I hadn't spent a couple hours piecing together the commentary. But, really, why? No more wire hangers, dammit. I'd rather just go read Absalom, Absalom again, instead of reading someone else's doctoral thesis on the metafictional narrative superstructure of DC Comics. Read some Foucault, don't tell me about Teh Day Evilz Won until you've got Discipline and Punish under your belt. I can guess you haven't read it because it doesn't have magic mushrooms or ominous pyramids with mystical third eyes on the cover.

See what I did there? That's an ad hominem attack.

Someone's got to call bullshit, so it might as well be me: Bullshit, Grant Morrison. Grow the fuck up, you smug middlebrow Scottish mediocrity. You're almost fifty, for God's sake.